Zang Toi turns to Africa, Kirstie Alley and jewelry for Spring 2012

Zang Toi's longtime friend, actress Kirstie Alley, wore top-to-bottom sapphire to close his Spring 2012 runway show at New York Fashion Week. (photo by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine)
Zang Toi’s longtime friend, actress Kirstie Alley, wore top-to-bottom sapphire to close his Spring 2012 runway show at New York Fashion Week. (photo by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine)

Each season, Malaysian fashion designer Zang Toi draws upon his solo travels for inspiration.  For his latest Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week collection in New York, that destination was supposed to be Morocco.

However, the trip didn’t happen.

“I visited Morocco 11 years ago,” Toi said backstage before his Spring 2012 showing.  “The hotel that I stayed at, the famed La Lamounia, was recently renovated by the same interior decorator that decorated all the late [Yves] Saint-Laurent’s homes.  The rooms look amazing, so when it reopened, I decided I wanted to go there over the Memorial Day weekend.”

“But then the bombing at the cafe [in Marrakech last April happened],” Toi said.  “My mother of course picked up the phone and called me immediately.  She knew that I was going and pleaded with me not to go.”

Although he canceled his trip, Toi looked back at his previous journey to the area 11 years prior, and decided to pay homage not only to Morocco, but to Northern Africa.  The result was a stunning collection capped off by a sapphire blue strapless gown and jeweled coat that he dubbed “One Thousand & One Nights.”  Toi’s longtime friend, actress Kirstie Alley, wore the ensemble to close his runway show.

“This season I promised myself, ‘I’m not going to have another celeb on the runway,’” said Toi, who invited Jill Zarin from the “Real Housewives of New York City” to walk in his Fall 2011 show.  “Then three and half weeks [prior to the Spring 2012 show], Kirstie reached out to me and said she really wanted to do her first runway show.  We have a beautiful friendship dating back since 1993.  She is one of the kindest and most generous people that I know.  So…I just can’t say no to her!”

Toi’s 33-look collection contained many familiar elements from past seasons: a cheeky sprinkling of menswear here and there; long-sleeved silk and cashmere sweaters paired with A-line skirts; dramatic draped gold chains and giant brooches.  These and other examples of Toi’s signature style, while marking consistency from year to year, still present a refreshingly dramatic turn on the catwalk often resulting in gasps, tears, applause and the inevitable standing ovation at Lincoln Center.

It’s a style that Toi plans to control further with forays into areas beyond clothing.  His shoe collection launched several years ago includes truly global creations comprising materials sourced in Italy and handmade craftsmanship in Malaysia, with the end results splashed across the globe, including Toi’s own studio in midtown Manhattan.  For Spring 2012, Toi kicked the sparkle up a notch with his first venture into jewelry with countrywoman Amee Philips, focusing on 18K gold and sapphires, and is in talks with one of his sponsors about cosmetics licensing.

“We have beautiful 18K gold and sapphire jewelry all on the runway,” Toi said.  “I designed special sapphire drop chandelier earrings for Kirstie to wear to close the show.”

With the House of Toi expanding its reach, is food next on these shores?  After all, Toi’s love for cooking led to a successful café in one of Kuala Lumpur’s megamalls.

“Someday!” Toi exclaimed.  “Someday, we will.”

Watch our full interview with Zang Toi and view more photos from his Spring 2012 collection below.

Video: Interview with Zang Toi
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Photos: Zang Toi – Spring 2012
all photos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine